Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bill Barilko: Another Chapter

It is the type of news which immediately grabs your attention. Sure, the story may have been cold for an amount of time, but emotions quickly bubble to the surface with word of new developments.

Such was the case last month.

Any news relating to Bill Barilko of late usually surrounds an anniversary of a past event. In April, the hockey world celebrated the 60th anniversary of Barilko's famous playoff overtime goal on April 21, 1951, which captured the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On October 16, 2011, a fresh new chapter was written. The wreckage of the Fairchild piloted by Dr. Henry Hudson and carrying Bill Barilko, returned to Porcupine Lake in northern Ontario. It was from there the two set-out on a doomed fishing trip in August 1951. On the return flight, the plane dropped from the sky and disappeared with no signs as to its location. The journey back home in mid-October was both historical and emotional. The story coming full-circle after sixty-years had passed.

Of course, this is only one of many chapters concerning this aspect of the story. Back in 1962, when the wreckage was first discovered and the human remains returned to the families, I was too young for the entire matter to register in my thought process. Throughout the years, I have been totally captivated by the Bill Barilko story. Any reference to his name, verbal or written, would peak my interest. In 1988, I devoured John Melady's book on the Leaf defenceman called Overtime, Overdue: The Bill Barilko Story. In 2004, I could hardly wait for the release of Kevin Shea's Barilko - Without a Trace.

Last week, I decided to go back in time. I wanted to experience what it was like to follow the Barilko story as it unfolded back in 1962, when the initial sighting took place.

In order to accomplish this, I made a visit to the Newspaper Reading Room in the Toronto Reference Library. I was ready to immerse myself in the news from 1962. Drifting back to an era when there were limited media sources and the written word ruled supreme.

The first headline I came across in the Toronto Daily Star on the subject of the renewed efforts to locate the Barilko crash site was on January 2, 1962. Situated beneath a photo of Princess Margaret greeting Frank Sinatra at Royal Festival Hall in London, the enlarged bold lettering caused me to take a deep-breath. It read, "Barilko Plane Believed Spotted In Barren Bush Near James Bay." The text detailed the exploits of pilot Gary Fields and his search for the wreckage. He discovered a "glinting heap of metal," but didn't take any bearings as to the exact location. As described in the headline, the area was barren bush, thus there were no points of interest to identify a specific spot.

On June 2nd, Fields and two forest rangers were expected to take to the air with one goal in mind - find the wreckage and bodies of Dr. Hudson and Bill Barilko.

With no Toronto Daily Star being published on Sunday, the next news on the search appeared the following day on Monday June 4, 1962. A short article, located under the Crossword Puzzle provided an update for readers. District forester Ted Hall, informed everyone as to the current status of their findings. For those expecting immediate results, the news would be disappointing. The search involving a beaver plane and helicopter were unable to spot the wreckage.

A fitting story beside the puzzle, under the banner, "Medications Can Relieve Depression", seemed like appropriate reading material for those following the sad tale.

The next breaking news of substance on the activity taking place up north was splashed across the front page of the Toronto Daily Star on Thursday June 7, 1962. The headline is both stunning and powerful. One can only imagine the impact it had on those following the story right from late summer of 1951 when news of the crash became public. Eleven-years later, their eyes were glued to seven simple, but gut-wrenching words, "The Long Search Ends - Find Barilko's Plane."

A photograph of a smiling Bill Barilko accompanied the piece, along with a caption which read "11-year mystery over."

As if this wasn't enough, the sub-headline above the story brought a jarring jolt which usually comes when being told bad news. The finality it implies is tough to swallow - "2 Bodies Strapped In Seats" - and the focus quickly sifts to Bill Barilko and Dr. Henry Hudson.

The content of the article is staggering and devastating. "The Skeletons were strapped in seat belts in the plane, partly submerged in swampy water, and the two men apparently were killed on impact," detailed one paragraph.

At this stage, I could only think of the Barilko family and their state of mind when told of the discovery. It must have been a relief to bring Bill's remains home and lay him to rest. Hand-in-hand with this is the trauma of experiencing the entire matter once again. The benefits of an 11-year buffer zone supplying little consolation. The stark reality of the situation making the crash seem as though it only happened.

All these thoughts came to mind as I sat in the library. The story took on a personal nature as I slumped back in my chair and took a break to soak in what I just read. Having meet Bill's sister, Anne Barilko-Klisanich this past June, I thought about the pain she must have endured from 1951 to 1962 and beyond. Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly recalled my conversation with Anne. Her stories about Bill and their shared times together helped to distract me from the horrible events surrounding the crash.

Checking the sports section of the Toronto Daily Star for June 2, 1962, it served as a  reminder that life goes on. Although it was the hockey off-season, the sports pages were not void of information pertaining to Toronto's boys of winter. The legendary Milt Dunnell, writing in his column, Speaking on Sport, provided his readers with updates on several Maple Leafs. Dunnell passed along word Leaf centre Billy Harris was starting a new job with a catering company. Also, Toronto left winger Frank Mahovlich was about to be married, but the date was being withheld to keep the unwanted at bay.

The previous day, the National Hockey League conducted their annual meetings in Montreal. The big news for Toronto hockey fans concerned Bert Olmstead. Being a key member of the freshly minted Stanley Cup champions for 1961-62, Olmstead's services were lost to the New York Rangers who claimed the veteran off the Leafs roster during the draft.

In the period from 1951 to 1962, Toronto's hockey franchise struggled on the ice, with Barilko's goal representing their final date with Lord Stanley's silver mug. As though it were destiny, with the Leafs winning the Cup in 1962, the remains of its last playoff hero were recovered.

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